Sunday, February 21, 1999
Keeping alive the legacy of Raj
THE captivating power of cinema in India is now well-acknowledged. For almost the last 100 years, cinema has been a part of our culture. It has been deeply influenced by our diverse traditions. Its tremendous impact on the Indian audience is evident from its ability to grasp, capture and mirror deeply entrenched values, tradition and contemporary events in a society that is multifaceted and complex. Needless to say that it has also been at the same time, a vehicle of social change refashioning social mores, attitudes, and thought processes. And one banner that has successfully communicated the dynamics of this change to the audience is the RK banner.
Rishi Kapoors first directorial offering, Aa Ab Laut Chalein marks 50 years of filmmaking under the RK banner. A brain child of Raj Kapoor, the banner that was born in the aftermath of Independence, evoked a fantastic audience response. The young Raj Kapoor had gauged that what the people needed was a personality to identify with. And cinema was to act as a catalyst to the complex emotions of the Independence struggle that also involved a search for the identity. For decades to come, Raj Kapoor communicated his quintessential "simplicity" through the character of Raju the tramp.
The latter was necessarily the good-hearted simpleton who found it difficult to adjust to changing times, values, social mores and even popular aspirations. But he triumphed in the end because he knew how to conquer by the weapon of love. The early Raj Kapoor films thus gradually infused an everlasting oeuvre of popular romantic sensibility to social themes.
Cinematically, they sought to integrate the popular ingredients of filmmaking-songs, dance and melodrama with Raj Kapoors personal aesthetic impulses.
The attempt to link the romantic ideal with the passion for social struggle so evident in Aag, Barsaat, Awara, Shree 420 and Jis Desh Main Ganga Behti Hai finds fuller expression in later films. Sangam, Mera Naam Joker, Bobby, Satyam Shivam Sundaram, Prem Rog and Ram Teri Ganga Maili may have explored diverse subjects within the mode of popular story telling. The common strand that bound them was a tender romanticism imbued with a conflict of values old social values vying with progressive ones. And the latter, with their positive facets, always emerged triumphant.
This contributed enormously to the success and "infinite timelessness of Raj Kapoors cinema. With almost the same consistency though varying styles, Henna, Prem Granth and Aa Ab Laut Chalein (directed by his sons, Randhir, Rajiv and Rishi Kapoor, respectively) carry forward the RK tradition entertaining and educating the masses by overtly transmitting values like honesty, patriotism, morality and respect for women.
All films of the RK banner have actually been steadfast agents of socialisation for a large section of audience in India who are still illiterate. They might throng the theatres in search of escapism but they also look for some intellectual elevation, however, naive it may seem to an educated urban audience.
Since, the RK banner was always committed to make films that would appeal to the masses, the question of commercialism and box-office success was never far from mind. But critics have felt an increasing surrender to commercialism in films like Ram Teri Ganga Maili and Prem Rog often signifying a falling off from standards Raj Kapoor had set in his earlier works.
It is, however, a fact that the banner never broke drastically with its past-there is an obvious, line of continuity from Aag to Aa Ab Laut Chalein with similar thematic concerns and stylistic devices, Aag was the story of a youth consumed by the desire for a brighter and more intense life. Departing from the more traditionally accepted style of filmmaking, Raj Kapoor sought to create a brooding melodrama crystallised in mood lighting, whispered dialogues and symbolically changed shots. A style and treatment quite visible in his next four films. Shree 420, the film with which the RK banner strode to the pinnacle of glory, explored the life of a poor, educated honest man trying to survive against the corrupt influences of the big city of Bombay. It is in this film that satirical humour, evident in the scenes of pavement dwellers and an element of spectacle were introduced. Combined with apt subject material, this became a recurring motif in many other RK films.
While Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai contained a very clear social message in support of non-violence, Sangam projected a triangular love relationship as its core experience. Grounded for a while by the failure of Mera Naam Joker, the RK banner was restored by the success of Bobby, a film about the thoughts, imaginings and yearnings of a new generation. Prem Rog, on the other hand, was a conscience-raising exercise against the moral depravity that characterised the private lives of feudal landlords.
This was followed by Ram Teri Ganga Maili that focussed attention on the rapidly changing values of society, moral decadence, loss of spirituality and consequent socio-economic corruption. Using Ganga the heroine of the film as a metaphor, the film highlighted cultural values that would help to transcend the harmful effects of modernisation. More significantly, RTGM broke all previous boxoffice records and succeeded in temporarily winning back audiences that had abandoned cinema for the newly introduced video. Subsequently, Henna, a social commentary on across the border love and Prem Granth, a saga of a suffering Indian woman, were cast in the same mould.
Aa Ab Laut Chalein narrates a story that is essentially a 1990 rendition of the 1950s classic Shree 420. If Raju; the simpleton left the village for the city in Shree 420, in search for bread, butter and big money, then city-bred Rohan leaves the homeland for the USA. The film beautifully captures the nuances of cultural and emotional cross-fertilisation between NRIs and native Indians spanning two generations. Stylistically speaking, the film lacks the poetic brilliance of the legendary Raj Kapoor. Yet Rishi Kapoors treatment is unobtrusive and very effective in giving full play to the main stars to interact in the most natural manner.What then emerges distinctive is the sensitive handling of the theme-westernisation and its woes infused with heart warming humour that provides a steady pace to the narrative, so typical of all RK films.
More importantly, what bolsters this steady pace is the heart-strumming music in all RK films. In the use of music, so vital for the films popularity, the banner has always taken great pains to select a musical score that matched well with the central sentiments of the film. Raj Kapoor was always trying to achieve an understanding of love that sublimated the soul over the body. Within this he used music with great perspicacity to establish moods, intensify emotions, foreshadow events and underline thematic points. And in this, for many years Lata Mangeshkar with the sweetness of her voice was his inspiration. Melodious songs like, Ghar Aya Mera Pardesi, Hawa Mein Udtaa Jaye, O, Janewale, O, Basanti Pawan Pagal, Jhoot Bole Kauwa Kate, Yashomati Maiya Se, Mohabbat Hai Kya Cheez and Sun Sahiba Sun served an essential function in the narrative to make a conscious exploration of romantic love. The tradition continued in Henna and Prem Granth with songs like Chittye and Main Kamzor Aurat, imaginatively blending image and sound to fathom the complex web of human emotions.
Aa Ab Laut Chalein too excels in its song and dance numbers, Yaro Maf Karna and Yehi Hai Pyar set in the heart of America eminiscent of Raj Kapoors style in Dil Ka Haal Sune Dilwala, Pyar Mein Sauda Nahin and Mein Hoon Prem Rogi, displaying "spectacle" as a prominent motif in the plot construction.
However, Nadeem Shravan have only partially succeeded in giving a lilt to their ensemble numbers in the manner of Shankar Jaikishan and Lakshmikant Pyarelal. Not denying the fact that absence of Latas rendering considerably robs the film of its soulful impact.
But, it is doubtful if any film banner over the decades, has succeeded in weaving the films narrative structure with music, humour and spectacle so delightfully and naturally even while conveying a social message. In all RK films, the settings presented, the experiences explored and the values evoked bear closely on the process of social modernisation and its impact on the life styles of the people. The two currents of tradition and modernity run through all films and consequently there has always been an attempt to unify the two in a way that will ensure individual happiness and societal stability.
All said and done, Raj
Kapoors impeccable style and genre of film making
still inspires many filmmakers to churn images of popular
entertainment. The success of films like Hum Apke Hain
Koun, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Raja Hindustani
and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai amply demonstrates the
same. Rishi Kapoor also makes an impressive directorial
debut in the same style and tradition. The RK banner at
50 indeed continues to live up to the heights of the
showmans craftsmanship and social expression.
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